The Key to Reading Comprehension
By Ari Fertel
Many parents want their children to improve their reading comprehension. But how to accomplish that is often misunderstood.
The best way to improve reading comprehension is not to focus on comprehension; it’s to focus on fluency.
Your child’s fluency will determine the depth of their comprehension.
Let me explain.
Fluency is the ability to read words accurately, easily, and with expression.
There’s a progression there…
Accurately > Easily > Expressively
First, a child learns to decode words and pronounce them accurately. This is the first step to fluency.
The more a child reads, the easier it is for them to read accurately. It’s not that the accuracy increases; it’s that the effort required for the same accuracy decreases.
This is a very important step in a child’s progress toward improved comprehension. Why? Because the more brain power your child has to invest in pronunciation, the less brain power they have available for comprehension.
There’s a limit to how much your child can do at once. If he’s focused on one thing, he’s not available to focus on another.
Last night I was talking to my husband while he was brushing his teeth. He understood everything I said while at the same time brushing and swishing.
What would have happened if I tried to talk to my 9 year old while he was brushing his teeth?
He would have stopped brushing and said, “What mom?”
For my husband, brushing is automatic. He doesn’t have to think about it. In fact, he can do it while thinking about something else.
But for a 9 year old, brushing takes more thought. He has to concentrate. And therefore, he can’t concentrate on anything else at the same time.
The problem with many young readers is that they spend so much energy thinking about how to read that they don’t have spare energy to think about what they’re reading.
A child with impaired fluency is like an actor who doesn’t know their lines. As long as they’re thinking about the words, the meaning doesn’t come through.
And that’s why improving fluency leads to improved comprehension. Before your child can find the meaning of the words, the words themselves have to be easy to read.
After your child reads accurately and easily, they can read with expression. Expression catapults comprehension.
Think about a public speaker.
A good public speaker uses volume, tone, emphasis, cadence, and phrasing to convey meaning. Our understanding is not just a function of what the speaker says; it’s also a function of how he says it.
A poor public speaker, on the other hand, is monotone. Their delivery is robotic. It lacks expression. And without the verbal cues, their message is less engaging and harder to comprehend.
It works similarly with reading. Comprehension skyrockets once a reader realizes which words to chunk together and which ones to emphasize within each chunk. But again, this chunking of words and injection of emphasis is only possible for fluent readers who have the brain capacity to make sense of what they’re reading.
Reading comprehension is not something you pursue; it’s something that ensues. It’s achieved through the gates of fluency.
Ari Fertel is the President & Founder of Reading Buddy Software, advanced speech recognition technology that listens, responds, and teaches as your child reads.